blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
How IS writing like painting?
Although, yes, writing at its best is art.
For today’s blog post’s purpose, let’s think about this kind of painting and its correlation to writing:
If you’ve done any remodeling in your home, even as minor as painting a feature wall, you know that the project doesn’t happen magically. To do the job with excellence and enjoy the end product, the painter–amateur or professional–pays attention to many vital steps.
Prepare the surface
What’s the equivalent of removing old wallpaper or scraping peeled and curling paint for a writer? It might mean discarding preconceived notions about your theme or subject so you can get all the way down to the truth. Preparing the surface can also be the writer’s pre-writing process. Clearing away debris-thoughts. Imagining the finished project, and letting that override resistance to all the work that stands between this moment and the book’s glorious THE END.
It may also mean patching holes, smoothing out rough spots, or filling gaps in the writer’s education or research. It could mean dealing with water damage and stains. To a writer, that may be emotional wounds and prejudices that could bleed through the new coat of paint, or bleed through a stain a story.
Collect your tools
Professional painters know they could paint a whole house with a toothbrush, but it would be bogglingly inefficient and tedious. Writers can write a book on cocktail napkins or scraps of paper stored in shoeboxes. But again–both inefficient and laborious. Why do we sometimes try to write with literary toothbrushes? Not taking time to or making the investment to upgrade software. Not stopping to find that characterization file. Procrastinating on defragging a hard drive. Ignoring the issues that are slowing a computer or making it crash periodically… Any of these irritations can cause an author so much distress and distraction that little work gets done, or cleanup at the end is more challenging.
A wise painter lays a drop cloth over the floor to prevent costly spills. How does that relate to your process as a writer? What’s a writing tool you use often that could benefit from an upgrade not only for efficiency but to create a beautiful finished product?
Ensure proper ventilation
Since the invention of low-VOC paint (with lower levels of dangerous to inhale volatile compounds), homeowners don’t have to be as concerned as they once were about adequate ventilation when tackling a painting project. But writers still do. Creativity benefits from sunshine and fresh air. Writers who hold their breath while crafting tense scenes may need to step away from the computer and breathe. A brain deprived of oxygen does not a good book make. (It’s a legitimate point. Schedule deep breathing breaks if you need to boost your brain’s ability to find that perfect word you’re looking for.)
Pay special attention to cutting-in
Cutting-in is the term for the detail work of painting around window trim, edges, light switches, doorways, or along the mopboard. It can be time-consuming and intense, but done well, it’s a clear demonstration of the level of professionalism.
For writers, cutting-in represents handling delicate topics. Being thoughtful about tough themes. Working around issues that are often misunderstood. Creating a character who is both villain and victim.
Take time cutting-in, writers. Publishers and readers may not know the effort you invested, but they will appreciate the crisp look of the finished product.
A second coat and touch ups
Despite the claims of high-end paint products that claim “one easy coat,” many paint jobs require at least a second coat. Even the best writers go back through their work to make sure everything’s covered. Are loose ends tied up? Plot points fully resolved? The character arc clear? For nonfiction, that second coat can be watching for flow issues, pacing, double-checking details.
The last thing a house flipper does is make one last round to take care of touch ups. The flipper is on the lookout for spots that were missed originally, or dings that happened during the rest of the remodeling or staging. Glaring typos, like an obvious bare spot on freshly painted woodwork, can make a prospective buyer–or agent/editor/reader–wonder if the writer took other shortcuts.
We can find writing parallels all around us. What was it about this one that brought something to mind about your own writing process?